A fairy tale love story or a fictitious marriage?

An Eilat couple's fight against expulsion orders reveals lack of due process in probing foreigners' status.

foreignworkers88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
It could be a typical Eilat love story. Ida Ben Simon Zissman and Nemsang Manit met in the southern city, where Manit worked at a local restaurant. Zissman, a divorcee, and Manit began to date, visiting local dance clubs on free evenings, and a year-and-a-half later they were married. But what by the couple's account sounds like a typical love story has turned the two into the targets of an investigation. Manit is a foreign worker from Thailand, while Zissman is an Israeli citizen, and the two are suspected of being fictitiously married in order to obtain permanent status in Israel for Manit. Last week, Immigration Authority Chief Ya'akov Ganot claimed in the Knesset that 70 percent of marriages involving foreign workers in Israel were fictitious, and described his agency's efforts to uncover the offenders. But three weeks ago Southern District Court Justice Baruch Azoulai ruled in favor of Zissman and Manit, one of those allegedly fictitiously married couples, allowing the couple to participate in a hearing to appeal Manit's expulsion from Israel. Manit had been working legally in Israel for around three years when he and Zissman met, and according to Zissman's testimony, the two began going out to dance clubs together. After dating for a year-and-a-half, they claimed, they were married in a civil ceremony in Cyprus before returning to Israel and renting an apartment together in Eilat. Immediately after their marriage, in November 2005, the two petitioned for Manit's naturalization. While their request was under review, Zissman participated in two separate appeals, the results of which were temporary extensions of Manit's work visa, without any change in his status. In the course of the first of the two appeals, Zissman was questioned at what Interior Ministry officials termed a "hearing" but what critics described as an interrogation. During the hearing, Zissman was asked what the two had bought each other for their previous birthdays; she answered that she had received NIS 300 and had not bought Manit anything. She was asked whether they planned to have children and answered in the affirmative. When asked about the time they spent together, she said that they did not have much time together because of Manit's busy work schedule, but that when they did, they watched movies together. On the basis of these answers, the Populations Authority came to the conclusion that although they lived together, each one "lives separately." Nevertheless, they extended Manit's visa until October 2007. At that time, they questioned Zissman and Manit again individually, as well as questioning the two together. At that time, the couple, who had said during their previous interviews that they were saving money to buy a house together, asked that the process of awarding Manit an identity card be sped up in order to allow them to open a joint bank account and buy a house, but instead, once again, Manit's current status was extended - this time by six months. In February, the couple's apartment was searched to try to establish whether the two actually lived as a married couple. According to the defendants, investigators said they found that Manit's possessions were confined to the living room, while Zissman's were in the bedroom. They further argued Manit avoided entering Zissman's room. They also "concluded that the couple did not have appropriate communication, as Manit does not speak Hebrew or English or any other language that Zissman speaks." Zissman and Manit, however, claimed that they were sleeping separately due to the religious prohibition against sleeping together while a woman is menstruating. Further, they argued that the contents of the shower and the closet revealed that the two lived together. Although the court found that the couple's status was questionable, they criticized the review process that the couple had gone through, writing, "after reading through the claims of both sides, it seems to me that the main question that stands in this hearing is whether due process of hearings was held. Regarding this, it seems... that the answer is no." Azoulai complained that the hearings had been carried out more like interrogations. It did not make sense, argued Azoulai, that if on the basis of those hearings Manit's visa was extended, those same hearings could take the place of a hearing after the apartment was searched. Azoulai further complained that the two had never been informed of their right to a hearing to voice their claims, ordered the defendants to pay NIS 5,000 to cover the couple's expenses and to return the couple's status to the state it had been in before they received the decision to reject the application.